Student Features

Design a Plane of the Future
02.24.05
Cartoon drawing of people standing in line at an airport and the last person in line is a skeleton with luggage
A wait at the airport can seem terminal. But one day, you and your family may be flying your own plane to take weekend trips. NASA's Future Flight Design site lets you design aircraft and then test them. You can also design a better air transportation system to shorten the wait.

Image to right: Sometimes it seems as if you wait at an airport forever. Credit: NASA

Why Do We Need a Better System?

Airports have many flights. They are not only for passengers, but for cargo as well. With so many flights, the runways sometimes become crowded. Even the traffic to the airport can seem unbearable.

When cars were invented, scientists and engineers had to design a ground transportation system with roads and traffic rules. A similar system was designed for air transportation. With more people traveling by air than ever before, your challenge is to find ways to improve this air transportation system.

On the Future Flight Design site, you will find two problems to solve:

  • The Air Transportation Problem -- find videos and articles for research
  • The Aircraft Design Problem -- design your aircraft in this interactive area
In the Future Flight Design Center, found within the Aircraft Design Problem, you can design an aircraft online. There are eight sections in this area with cool animations, sound effects and interactivity.

Cartoon drawing of eight buildings with a girl on the left side and the boy on the right
Image above: Amy and Andrew will guide you through the Future Flight Design Center. Credit: NASA

The Future Flight Design Center

Aeronautics Lab
Start here to find out how planes fly. Learn about the four forces of flight that make it happen.
Cartoon drawing of aeronautics lab
Cartoon drawing of propulsion lab
Propulsion Lab
There is more than one kind of aircraft engine. Find out how they work and which to choose for your aircraft.

Fuselage Lab
The shape for your aircraft's body affects how well it flies and uses fuel. Learn about the structure, materials and aerodynamics. You can also take a fun quiz on parts of the fuselage.
Cartoon drawing of fuselage lab
Cartoon drawing of lift lab
Lift Lab
In this section, you will experiment with the number and sizes of the rotors on your aircraft. You can also determine how much lift you need to make your aircraft go up, come down or hover.
Design Center
Now that you have tested elements of your aircraft, you must choose a situation and build an aircraft that must:

  • Be able to fly
  • Carry the right number of people
  • Be cost-effective
  • Be able to fly the distance
  • Be the right size
  • Not increase ground traffic
Cartoon drawing of design center
Cartoon drawing of CFD building
Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD)
Did you know that aircraft designs can be tested before the aircraft is built? Watch videos to see how and why computers are used to test new designs.
Wind Tunnel
Have you ever seen a fan that is 40 feet wide? What kind of fan can blow the air at speeds of over 3,000 miles per hour? In the video How Does a Wind Tunnel Work? you can see such a fan. Also, watch two other videos that show how wind tunnels are used to test aircraft.
Cartoon drawing of wind tunnel
Cartoon drawing of flight test area
Flight Test
Finally, it is time to test your aircraft! First, watch the videos that explain flight tests. Then, test the aircraft that you created in the Design Center.

This site is a good resource for homework help. It has more than 20 videos and 30 articles. The topics include flight and weather. There is even a game to help you learn the special alphabet that pilots and ground control use.

Visit the Future Flight Design site and create the aircraft of the future.
+ View site

Denise Miller/NASA Education Technology Services
Adapted from Future Flight Design Web site